The times when I really cry? Tears streaming, unbridled intensity seeping from my eyes and down my neck and into my clothes? I cried on my wedding day. I cried the day my brother left for Iraq. I cried when I read about the Japanese elderly who volunteered to stay in the radioactive mess and clean it up so the younger guys could go home to their families. I cried when my doctor told me I had early stages of retinopathy. I cried when I watched Dead Poets’ Society and Billy Elliot. I cried when I read Night by Elie Wiesel, Jane Eyre, and The Diary of Anne Frank. I mean, I’m sure there are experiences that I can’t recall right now, but my point is that I average a good, hearty, cry about once a year. If that.
I had many moments as a child where I worried that I didn’t possess the same emotional responses to life that others did. I remember realizing, very early on in life (maybe 6 or 7 years old), that the way to avoid getting emotionally crushed by other kids was to save your feelings for people and events that deserved them. By the time I was eight, I’d begun using this method for any situation I thought warranted it. And switching it off was easy for me. I just decided that I didn’t give a rat’s ass about x, y, or z scenario, and that was that. No response, easy peasy. I remember my refusal to become emotionally engaged would send my mom into fits of fear-based anger. I think she worried that I might be a sociopath. By the time I was nine, I’d started to worry that I might be a sociopath. It was a real, deep, and pervasive, fear that I pushed to my center and buried beneath practicing, reading, and writing. I remember thinking that there was something dead inside me, that lay limp and heavy on my heart, unrotting but also unmoved. I wanted to be terrified, but it was easier to merely allow it to exist without prodding it into something I’d have to confront.
By the time I’d gotten to college, I was so untouched, so utterly unprodded, that I didn’t understand my reflection. I could look in a mirror, hear recordings of my voice, smell my skin and hair, and suffer no reaction, no connection. The problem was solved when I started dating an asshole. He was an emotionally abusive turd, and I fell for him so hard, it changed the premises of all my feelings. My first exposure to passion and pure vulnerability was riddled with hurt and befuddled, unwarranted, shame. (I’m taking a brief moment to reflect on how I’ve not been hospitalized. Moving on.)
The dichotomy of hurt and joy that ran through that particular relationship enabled me to see my ultimate ends, the places where my soul couldn’t take anymore, where my most suffused, completely filled, self needed to back away in order to survive. It took a long time to work through the pain and betrayal, but the area that required no work at all was my ability to care. I thought being hurt would prevent me from wanting to invest; would make the actions and commitment inherent in care increasingly difficult. It didn’t. It became necessary, and the focus of my fears shifted from frantically searching for distance to craving the act of kindness, needing to be loving like I might die if I spent a moment otherwise.
When I said goodbye to Corporal Shitstain, it was a solitary event that took place with him miles away, and me, alone, on my bed. I sat there, reading old notes and kind of kneading the space in front of me with my hands, wringing all the extra emptiness I’d carried around for so long. I felt tears slip down my cheeks in cold, quick, streams, and as each one fell to the covers, I imagined that I could feel it fall in my chest, my heart. I remember breathing with the tears, and feeling an overwhelming gratitude for them. I dragged myself to the bathroom, and lifted my chin to the mirror. I glared at my face, watched the tears slip away still faster, and saw myself. I saw the hurt and anger, yes; that was at the surface. Then I saw honor, and respect. I saw the necessity of saying goodbye, the beauty in gracing an ending with the only physical, tangible, evidence our body produces for our feelings. I saw that when I cried, each tear was a gift, a hard-won, heavily given, piece of my best and most treasured self.
I wiped my tears away, and vowed never to cry over Cpl. Shitstain ever again. (Easiest promise ever.)
I have, since then, ‘rarely’ cried. When I do, it is a draining and amazing thing, whether it’s for pain or joy. I love tears; to me, they are one of the most beautiful things about humans. I probably took the lamest, longest, path to get there, but my reasons for selective detachment now are exactly the same as they were when I was a child, without the fear. I embrace my crazy, sobbing, shrieking, care. I welcome its insatiable need, its everpresent halo, and its trying demands. But I also respect the commitment and honesty that must ride with such care. I owe my place in this temple to my tears, and the pure ecstasy that comes from an authentic wail.